ORONO, Maine — University of Maine junior center and captain Tanner House scored 5:10 into overtime Sunday night to send the Black Bears to the Hockey East Tournament Semifinals with a 3-2 win in the decisive third game of their quarterfinal series against the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.
Maine will oppose defending National Champions Boston University next Friday at the TD Garden in Boston. Vermont will face Boston College in the other semifinal.
House drove to the left post while sophomore left wing Brian Flynn skated with the puck along the left-wing boards and slid him a pass after drawing Lowell senior goaltender Carter Hutton over with a fake.
“I can’t describe that feeling,” House said of his 16th goal of the season. “Flynn made a great pass. I was fortunate to bang it in off the post.”
Maine is returning to the semifinals for the first time since the 2005-06 season, when they lost to Boston College in that game, but followed the tournament with a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four. Lowell lost to B.U. in the Hockey East Championship Game last season.
“They (Maine) are to be congratulated,” Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald said. “They really bounced back from some adversity and played well.”
Maine sophomore defenseman Will O’Neill’s second goal of the game with 4:48 remaining in the third period sent the game to into the extra 20-minute session. O’Neill sent a whistling one-timer past Hutton from the right point. The goal came while the teams were skating four-on-four.
“I just tried to get as much on it as I could,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill’s first goal tied the game at 1-1 late in the second period. His late-game heroics answered Lowell junior center Scott Campbell’s power-play goal 7:42 into the third. Campbell stood his ground at the top of the crease and one-timed a pass from behind the net by sophomore center David Vallorani to beat Maine senior goaltender Dave Wilson.
“It’s a disappointing way to end the season, having led on two different occasions in the game,” MacDonald said.
Hutton and Wilson were both on top of their game for the third straight night. Wilson stopped 26 shots, while Hutton took the loss in a 33-save effort. Maine held a 32-27 edge in shots-on-goal at the end of regulation and scored on its fourth shot in overtime.
“I was thoroughly impressed with Hutton and their entire team,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said.
“Wilson elevated his game,” O’Neill said. “He played unbelievable.”
Maine battled through the adversity of having to scratch injured junior defenseman and assistant captain Jeff Dimmen from the lineup before the game. Dimmen hurt his leg on a hit along the boards during Saturday’s game. Freshman Matt Mangene, who was recruited as a defenseman but played center for the entire season, replaced Dimmen on the blue line.
“I thought (Mangene) was arguably our best defenseman,” Whitehead said.
Maine also played without suspended starting goaltender Scott Darling and injured junior defenseman Mike Banwell.
“Everyone just stepped up in their own way and we battled through for those guys,” House said.
The River Hawks shifted the offensive momentum in the second period, outshooting Maine 11-6, but could not take a lead heading into the third period.
Lowell freshman right wing Colin Wright solved Wilson 5:48 into the second period. He backhanded a pass out of the corner by sophomore left wing Michael Budd. Of Wright’s seven goals this season, three have come against Maine.
“Both of my pads were just squeezed in,” Wilson said.
Maine equalized at 1-1 on a power play with 6:16 left in the second period. O’Neill’s wrister from the mid-point found its way to the net past Hutton, who was screened in front by Maine freshman right wing Joey Diamond.
Maine took a 16-5 advantage in shots-on-goal into the first intermission, but failed to capitalize on a pair of power plays. Both teams went one-for-five on the power play in the game.
“We really wanted to get it done tonight and take the next step,” Whitehead said. “This was a game that really tested us in a lot of ways.”